Hypocrisy, the Crime of the Moment

The charge of hypocrisy is often leveled by the activist left, but is hypocrisy really what they’re protesting?


Above is a poster distributed to a number of activist groups in Chicago recently by Equality Illinois. As you can see, it prominently accuses the Hyatt hotel chain of hypocrisy. Let’s take a look at this by analyzing the undisputed facts of the case and then the poster’s claims.

The Manchester Grand Hyatt is a huge hotel in downtown San Diego owned by Douglas F. “Papa Doug” Manchester. It was reported last March that Manchester had given a large sum of money to an organization called Protect Marriage that was at the time attempting to get a proposition banning gay marriage on the California ballot for the November general election. Protect Marriage succeeded, and Proposition 8 passed by about 52-47. Meanwhile, according to the poster, “GLBT activists have been boycotting the Manchester Hyatt since July, but Global Hyatt Corporation still refuses to repudiate Manchester.”

Now let’s take a look at the poster’s claims, explicit and implicit:

1) Since Manchester donated $125,000 to Protect Marriage, he does not want gays and lesbians to stay at his hotel. In the San Diego Union-Tribune article I linked above, Manchester says his hotels and restaurants welcome gays and lesbians as employees and customers. While he may not want them to marry, he never says he thinks they’re bad guests or even bad human beings (although he may think that). If I ran a hotel, I would let anti-gay marriage advocates stay there, even though I did not agree with them.

2) Since Hyatt has not “repudiated” Manchester—whatever that means—it must also not want gays and lesbians to stay at any of its hotels. This is a step beyond the San Diego-based campaign, which targeted only Manchester’s three hotels (only one of which is a Hyatt, and only two of which are in San Diego—the other is, randomly, in Idaho) and which started a bit of a war between unions and Christians. I do not know what exactly Hyatt could do to Manchester; I assume he runs a hotel using the Hyatt brand name because of some sort of contract, which Hyatt could not back out of on a whim even if it wanted to. Perhaps Hyatt could refrain from renewing that contract, or it could threaten to, or it could make a symbolic gesture. But I do not think anyone would seriously hold that its failure to de-brand its second-largest hotel in the U.S. results from any malicious intent on Hyatt’s part towards the GLBT community.

3) Since Hyatt employs “‘gay-friendly’ marketing strategies,” its failure to repudiate Manchester amounts to hypocrisy. Here we arrive at what I’d really like to talk about. First of all, “gay-friendly” is in scare quotes here. What is this “gay-friendly marketing”? Maybe it was just marketing that was generally friendly and did not exclude gay people from its good will? If it was marketing specifically aimed at gay people, under what circumstances would Hyatt then be acting hypocritically? Well, false advertising is arguably hypocritical; if the gay-friendly marketing promised that gay people could stay at Hyatt hotels, but then Hyatt did not let them stay at its hotels, that would be hypocritical. But if all the claims in the advertising were true—and the accuracy of specific claims is not being disputed here—then how can Hyatt be hypocritical? Unless Hyatt’s gay-friendly advertising promised that Hyatt would bend over backwards and make bad business decisions to accommodate gay people, I do not think Hyatt can be accused of hypocrisy here.

Having read this and become convinced that hypocrisy is at best a tenuous charge to level against Hyatt, surely any Equality Illinois proponent would lose their ardor for protest, right? No, of course not. Hypocrisy is not what they are really concerned about here; homophobia is. For that matter, I am concerned about it too, and I do not plan to stay at any of Manchester’s hotels on future visits to San Diego or Idaho; as the San Diego boycott campaign website says, “We do not want to spend our hard earned money at Doug Manchester’s hotels only to have him use it to take away our rights.”

But why drag hypocrisy into it at all, especially when you have to bend over backwards to make it seem even slightly plausible? Why not just accuse Manchester and Hyatt of homophobia? Well, because not everyone agrees that homophobia is wrong, but who’s going to defend hypocrisy? If you can successfully shift the debate to be about something everyone agrees on, you never have to take on the task of convincing people who disagree with you that they’re wrong. This task, of course, is essentially impossible on a mass scale. So Equality Illinois and many other activist groups choose to bracket the problem of right and phrase their attack in terms of universally agreed-upon sins and virtues, rather than attempting to actually change anyone’s minds.

I am not going to go so far as to condemn this tactic, because that would require weighing ends against means and costs and benefits and other such things that are beyond the scope of this post(1). But I will say that it is intellectually dishonest and leads to spurious charges like the one analyzed above. Furthermore, could one argue that, over time, it might actually have the harmful effect of punishing companies for making gay-friendly gestures, since they could open them up to charges of hypocrisy in cases like Hyatt’s here. This seems unlikely, though, as “‘gay-friendly’ marketing” is difficult to avoid in this day and age, and as we have seen, hypocrisy accusations do not require much in the way of evidence anyway.

Furthermore, there may be better ways to employ this tactic of shifting the subject to a universally agreed-upon one. The basic problem here is, how can you defend gay marriage (or attack its opponents) in a way that will convince even people who are against gay marriage? And of course any issue can be substituted for gay marriage here. As I mentioned above, it is hopeless to try to change people’s minds about gay marriage on a mass scale, although this is not as bad as it sounds because generational succession will take care of this problem anyway. But there is an argument to be made here about majorities not oppressing minorities, a principle even the Founding Fathers (no great allies of gay marriage) supported. I will not bother to sketch this argument out, but it is another way of reaching homophobes without convincing them that gay marriage is okay, and it is a lot more intellectually honest than manufacturing charges of hypocrisy.

(1) Note how I too am bracketing the problem of right.


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